Kickin' it in Korea

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Journey to the Demilitarized Zone (aka the DMZ)


Statue by the pavilion

Sounds epic -but it really isn't

Anyways, so Korea as you know I've been in Korea for quite a while, but never gone to the DMZ, so when meetup offered the trip, I knew I had to jump on it, even though no one wanted to go with me :(. Luckily they had a pickup at Dobongsan station (only 3 stops from my house), because I once again went out the night before (but I did have a lot of self restraint even when Benguin tried to encourage shot-taking).

Background information: Korea is the only country in the world technically still at war. The Korean war, which "ended" in 1953, ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. In Korea, military service is mandatory for young men.

There have been attacks since that time, one of the most recent of course being the recent alleged sinking of a South Korean navy ship by a North Korean sub, which may now lead to more tension (Yippee I live here)

Anyways when I embarked on my trip, I have no idea the approaching storm of Korean tensions. After about an hour bus ride, we arrived at the first place where our fierce leader would pick up the documents that allowed us to be in the area. You see, you must provide your passport information to be in the DMZ and South Korean citizens can only go here with special permission.

While he picked these things up, we headed out to check out Goseokjeong Pavilion and stream. It was beautiful. One bittersweet effect of a zone most people are not allowed to visit is that the beauty of nature has been preserved throughout most of the DMZ, so that rare birds and animals exist there. But thanks to the war, there are also land mines all around, which leads me to wonder if those cute little animals are all going to... no stop it.

beautiful scenery

pavilion

Gorgeous right? yeah and the scenery too ;)

So anyways, after that, we got back in the bus and headed to the Cheorwon Peace Observatory. From there we could look with telescopes across to North Korea and the Beautiful scenery. We could also listen to a recounting of the battles that happened in that area.

glimpse of North Korea

me

I suppose in a place like this you need both Mary

and Buddha
Next, we headed off to Tunnel #2. These tunnels were built to allow North Korean soldiers plan a secret ambush attack, but luckily 4 of them have been discovered. There are still believed to be quite a few that have been undetected. We walked all the way to the end of the tunnel, which was dark and scary, very low (we had to wear helmets and boy did I hear people hit their heads), and with water dripping. At one point my claustrophobia kicked in. We weren't allowed to take pictures, but we did anyways, but curses, they had CCTV. So we were inspected and had to delete any pictures of the tunnel.
After we got out we took pictures with the soldiers. One of them was a really funny guy who spoke a bit of English. He'd say things like "I'm cutie Korean boy". Anyways he told us he'd miss us as we left.

warning:

After that, we headed to the Labor Party House. Just a haunting ruin now, it was once a place where many people were tortured and even killed. The saying was that if you went in there you never came out the same. We took tons of interesting pictures. As we were leaving some soldiers came on our bus, looked around, and left.

The next stop was White Horse Hill. As we headed up the hill we thought we would need an interpreter, but we were lucky enough to have a soldier on duty that day who spoke amazing English. Turns out he lived abroad for 6 years. He told us details we would have missed out on if we had to rely on translation.

Hill sign
The White Horse Hill battle, was one of the deadliest battles of the Korean war. This hill was so crucial because of its great use as a lookout points. Several Koreans and Chinese died to retake this hill. It was bombed so that in the air it looks like a horse, hence the name, and there were so many leftover bullet shells that monuments have been made from them. There is also a memorial there. It was a great trip.

Monument to lost soldiers
Awesome tour guide/ excellent English speaker

Then finally we headed to Imjingak, which is a place that was designed for North and South Korean family reunions (many families have been seperated for decades thanks to the division of the country). As such there was a park, monuments, even an amusement park... Not the best place to be relaxing if there was an attack.
So we ate a quick late lunch and then took a look at the peace bridge, the wrecked train, and the observatory. There is a higher observatory but we got there just as it closed. Having the English tour guide had made the trip last longer than usual.

Remains of a train

Freedom Bridge (I think)

Ajosshi scoping out NK

Hopes that Korea will someday be reunited

For some reason, we were never asked to show our passports, so that was great. Guess we obviously looked foreign.

There wasn't much time so I rush to grab a few souvenirs (North Korean beer and soju of course) and then we headed back to Seoul.

NK beer & Soju are much stronger than their SK counterparts
Anyways, I recommend going to the DMZ

Good Luck
p.s. you can also take organized tours into North Korea, but they are pretty expensive.

No comments: